III. Hose Water
When I got to the barbecue the evening sun had settled in the west above the distant Chicago buildings. Warm shadows nuzzled the alleyways and lingering traffic shuffled slowly between the lights. It was a dusty fenced in backyard, just a block beyond the elevated train tracks. I heard Cait's voice from outside the fence and walked in.
It smelled like sizzling grease and stale beer, and the group in the yard was loose-hipped and boisterous. The keg was like a bug zapper and layers of sunned faces with red cups stood near it waiting.
Caitlin sauntered towards me with a look on her face like James Dean, a cigarette in each hand and her diaper fully intact. She hugged me abrasively.
"How was sitting on babies?" she said.
"Let's hope they did," she said, slapping my butt. Her dull brown hair was tousled and bright. The sun peaked now between the top of the apartment buildings, making her features dark in the golden contrast. Her skin looked burnt, and freckles had multiplied on her shoulders and cheeks. She stood hunched over with her hips protruding forward. I took a drag of one of her cigarettes.
"Hey now," she grabbed it back from me.
"If I smoke two at time I technically only smoke once an hour. It's a time saver." She put them both in her mouth and exhaled twice, one puff of smoke left and one right.
"You and your bright ideas."
"You need a beer," she said, putting her arm around my shoulder. We walked over to the keg. Her body weight on me made me feel like a cane.
"Steve, beer me," she motioned to a stocky bearded guy, with shaggy brown hair. He had a snug wife-beater on and his shoulders were burnt red. On the back of the beater he'd drawn a small blank flag on a pole.
He handed me two cups. Most people in the yard held two, which wasn't so much of a trend as it was a mission. Caitlin talked to a group behind me. Her voice resonated but the details were lost with the noise of a passing train.
She was a captivating spectacle with an unavoidable presence. She roamed from group to group like an over-accommodating host, or a backstage star post-production, flitting from groups of fans to the next. Steve walked towards me.
"So you're Cait's infamous roommate," he said.
"That is the hearsay madame." He stood like a wide noodle, completely unnerved. His burnt skin was exaggerated by the white of his normal complexion. His cheeks were pink and his eyes were sea green. His frame wasn't necessarily fat, but round and soft looking, like a hard boiled egg. He spoke slowly, like each word had a designated moment that could not be rushed.
"You believe everything you hear?"
"More often than not."
"Good policy. Well then, I'm the opposite of infamous. I'm a theologian actually. A former aspiring nun." I finished drink one and stacked the cups. I looked at him now with my hand over my eyes as a visor.
He closed his eyes emphatically and snapped his fingers.
"Opinion officially changed," he said.
"Good." I looked around the yard. Cait was entertaining a group by the fence. She marched in place and made contorted faces, likely for some ficticious tangent. The group was laughing.
Steve walked over to the side of the house and picked up the hose from the ground and turned it on. The water flowed mildly. He poured some into his hand and splashed it on his face, then stuck his mouth below the flowing spout and drank ravenously. He walked back towards me, water splashed on his beater.
"Could have just used the sink for some water ya know," I said, jokingly.
"I really prefer the hose," he said. He wiped water off his beard.
"Why is that?"
"It reminds me of drinking fountains. You know, like in elementary school? And it's always cold. I splash my face with it and the water makes me thirsty, you know? And then it's like I'm back in first grade, skipping class for a cold drink," he peered off nostalgically.
"So you always drink from the hose?"
"Where there's a hose, I'll drink from it," he said.
"What do you do in the winter? Or at a restaurant?"
"I put my face under the faucet. I mean, I'll drink from a glass but it's just not the same. You should try it," he said, "It's a religious experience. Which you should really understand."
"Got it. I'm good with beer for now." I said. I tried to smile but really I would need a few more drinks to enjoy this garrulous crap.
"You don't know what you're missing... So... did you graduate with Caitlin then?"
I began to feel irritated.
"I don't mean to be rude, but I just can't do the whole 'what's your plan' small talk type deal," I said.
"I was just curious. I'm not gonna ask you your major or anything. I was just wondering if you were still in school. I'm a junior," he said, "Maybe we've had a class together."
"Yeah I graduated. I can't believe I'm older than you," I said.
Lately it seemed that everyone I met was younger than me. I was getting older but still going to the same places. The reality hadn't settled. Eventually I began to notice that most people my age were starting to do real adult things, like wash their hair daily and commute to work, with less and less time for Flag Day parties and blackout yacht excursions.
I had always been the youngest. I was youngest is my family and amongst my group of friends. Being young is an excuse in itself. It's almost cute to be forgetful or wrong, because everyone old projects the understanding that the young will someday learn. Technically when you turn 18 you're an adult, with the glorified baggage of responsibility, but in college there are always upperclassmen who know more. Now I was older than the upperclassman. After college the adults are pooled into the same category and the differences between them, other than age and levels of attractiveness, are really just a matter of economics; studio apartments versus condos.
Sure I graduated, but I didn't feel any different. There were no core class requirements to learn the basics of how to shift into reality. I knew about ethnocentrism and Kantian philosophy. I'd learned and lived the allegory of psychomachia. I knew all about cognitive dissonance and the rhyme scheme of Italian sonnets, but I couldn't understand how to conduct a grownup day. How do I wake up at 6 a.m and take the train? Nothing in my closet reflected business attire. None of my shoe purchases were generated towards professionalism.
One thing was evident though. The novelty of partying passes when you're the oldest one in the room. When you're a freshman and you get drunk and make a fool of yourself, people easily pardon the behavior. When you start to get a bit older, people start asking questions, like, "Isn't she 25? Why is she throwing up in the sink and wearing a toga?" Having more credits than Steve didn't make me feel any cooler or smarter. It made me feel like a loser. He may of had hose water dripping from his beard, but I envied him. I worked for a dog in a dress and got pudding thrown on me for bonuses. One hundred grand later, I had a bootless degree in liberal arts and the qualifications to be an entry level coffee runner.
"So what are you doin' now?" said Steve.
I didn't answer. After an awkward moment I walked over to the hose and splashed cold water on my face. It was a liquid slap and felt good on my warm skin.
"You're right, it does make you thirsty," I said.
"It's religious, right? Like baptism. You'll never drink water from a glass again."
I walked back over to him.
"I'll have to. I don't have a hose," I said.
"Obstacles." He grabbed my cups and walked over to the keg.
Caitlin ran passed me towards the apartment door, holding her diaper in place and laughing hysterically.
Looks like it came in handy, I thought.